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Review by C.J. Bunce

The appeal for fans of this summer’s big-budget science fiction adventure Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets has been the greatest for its spectacular visuals.  The film was a labor of love for director Luc Besson, whose science fiction classic The Fifth Element stands alone in the sci-fi genre for its elaborate designs and completely new look at the future.  Besson fell in love with the French comic book source material by Jean-Claude Mézières that featured space pilots Valerian and Laureline.  Besson says he counts Laureline as his first love, “She was totally free and badass, and a very modern heroine.”  For years Besson did not think an adaptation could be done, until he watched James Cameron’s Avatar, and that film was the impetus for him to begin to look at the idea anew.  The result became Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

A film that pushes the possibilities of a future that is not so bleak and dystopian–as so many science fiction films paint the future–deserves a proper account to detail its creation.  That book is Mark Salisbury’s The Art of the Film: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, a full-color, wall-to-wall visual, hardcover chronology of the concept art and photographs of the film’s characters, planets, spaceships, and costumes.  Well-known for his behind the scenes looks at Crimson Peak, Prometheus, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Elysium, and Alice in Wonderland, and his landmark series on creating comic books from the viewpoint of the industry’s best, including Artists on Comic Art and Writers on Comics Scriptwriting, Salisbury provides more here than an edited accumulation of imagery.  He tells both the development of the film scene-by-scene from beginning to end, and interweaves the framework for the story on the screen.

Salisbury’s primary source in the book is Besson himself, who cites the creations he used in the film when he adhered to Mézières’s original vision from the source material, and when–and why–he didn’t.  It’s a testament to his adaptation that Mézières approved of his many creations and adaptations, including Valerian and Laureline’s famous ship, the Intruder. 

No expense was spared by Besson in creating Valerian with complete artistic freedom.  His development of a creative team was unprecedented.  Instead of taking the traditional route in developing the team–such as hiring thirty designers working very fast–as used for traditional films, his requirements for his effects-laden film were far greater than normal, requiring more outsourcing to multiple teams, including Industrial Light and Magic.  But instead of hiring a core team of thirty key creators for three months, he hired five creators for a year.  “We sent a message to more than 1,000 design schools saying, ‘We are going to make a design film and if you want to participate, submit an alien, a spaceship, and a world,'” he said.  He received 3,000 entries.  The lucky five chosen were Patrice Garcia, who had worked with Besson on The Fifth Element and Arthur and the Invisibles, Ben Mauro (Elysium, The Hobbit), book designer Marc Simonetti, illustrator Alain Brion, and artist Feng Shu.  Veteran storyboard/concept artist Sylvain Despretz (Alien Resurrection) joined the team, and it is their artwork and ideas that readers primarily will find throughout the book–and in the film.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

This weekend sci-fi and fantasy fans finally get to see French director Luc Besson’s singular vision decades in the planning as Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets arrives in theaters.  An adaptation of the fifty-year-old, popular, French comic book series Valerian and Laureline, the film delivers in a magnificent, grandiose way only Besson could deliver.  As with his sci-fi classic The Fifth Element, Besson–who also directed Lucy, The Professional, and La Femme Nikita–has added another genre-defining film to the list of must-see sci-fi movies.  If there’s any criticism due, it may be that the film in places is too much like The Fifth Element, but where Valerian falls short, it makes up for it with wall to wall action and alien creations that look nothing like anything Hollywood has ever produced.  It’s rounded out with spectacular production design by Hugues Tissandier (Lucy, Taken, The Transporter) and a riveting score by composer Alexandre Desplat (The Golden Compass, Argo, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows).

  • Best use of 3D cinematography in a movie to date?  Check.
  • Best visual depiction of strange new worlds and new alien life in a film to date?  Check.
  • Best hold-onto-your-seats spaceship rides through these strange new places?  Check.

Credit Besson, WETA Digital, Industrial Light and Magic, and hundreds of other visual effects, special effects, make-up, costume and prop creators–Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets looks like nothing you’ve seen.  Combine 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, and The Fifth Element, and you’ll have an idea of Besson’s big screen epic filled with all sorts of wonderful images.

Valerian is a snapshot of a day in progress in the life of two cocky space pilots.  The leads are two attractive, snarky and sassy, young and very modern, would-be lovers in a typical “will they or won’t they” set up–Valerian, played by Dane DeHaan (The Amazing Spider-man 2, True Blood), and Laureline, played by model-turned-actress Cara Delevingne (Suicide Squad, Anna Karenina).  Besson peppers the landscape of the big action sequences with the bare threads of their relationship, showing us if their relationship has room to be anything else beyond mere partners.  Beyond their through-line is a race to uncover the mystery behind an Avatar-inspired race of willowy peacelovers ravaged by war.  How are they related to a vision seen by Valerian, and are these peaceful people really the good guys or the bad guys?  But most of the time Valerian and the City of Thousand Planets is a non-stop rollercoaster ride as the leads assemble clues and rescue each other a time or two, as they try also to rescue a missing commander and uncover the mystery behind two unusual items in their possession: a rare magical pearl and a wide-eyed, pint-sized creature with extraordinary abilities.

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If you love comics and especially if you haven’t read a comic book in years then this Saturday’s Free Comic Book Day is all about you.  See what you have been missing out on at comic book stores across the United States as shops hand out free issues of new comic books from your favorite franchises and publishers Marvel, DC Comics, IDW, Archie Comics, Dark Horse, BOOM!, Titan Comics, and more.

Star Trek fans won’t want to miss out on the first ever view of the Star Trek: The Next Generation crew in the mirror universe story Mirror Broken! with incredible artwork by the incomparable J.K. Woodward.  Doctor Who fans will find an all-new story assembling the last four Doctors and companion Bill’s first appearance in comics.

Dozens of new FCBD stories will be available.  Check out the great covers above and below, plus previews of Avatar, Doctor Who, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Attack on Titan.

   

If you’re in the Kansas City area check out Elite Comics, and if not, use this comic book store locator to find your nearest participating shop.  Below, check out more comic books you will find Saturday (get there early if you don’t want to miss anything!), plus some videos about the event.

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cover_template_text    STII vinyl

The great composer James Horner died last year in a plane crash, leaving behind a legacy of some of the biggest and most memorable soundtracks that defined nearly 40 years of film history.  One of the most memorable for sci-fi fans is his score to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  To celebrate Star Trek’s 50th anniversary, Mondo–the guys known for their redux poster interpretations–are releasing an extended LP edition of Wrath of Khan with music never before available on vinyl.  And the release includes Mondo’s killer level of artwork interpreting Khan and Kirk on Ceti Alpha V and the Genesis Planet.

But Mondo didn’t stop there.  The vinyl albums reflect the look and colors of the Mutara Nebula, where the Enterprise and the Reliant faced off.

10WoK-Discs2--FINAL2_1024x1024    STII LP reverse

Horner’s work on Wrath of Khan is impressive and established Horner as a major film composer.  His score adapts themes from Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky and Romeo and Juliet, and Horner would work cues from classical masters in many of his film scores over the course of his career.  Order your copy of Horner’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan 2-LP set today here at the Mondo shop.

Never heard of James Horner?  You certainly have heard his work.  His last score will be featured in the remake of The Magnificent Seven due in theaters September 23, 2016, but the variety of films he wrote for is unprecedented.  He wrote themes that made many an actor look good–many in multiple films, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sigourney Weaver, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Matthew Broderick, Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Denzel Washington, Julia Roberts, and Brad Pitt, and collaborated on movies with the likes of big filmmakers, including Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Ridley Scott, Phil Alden Robinson, Wolfgang Petersen, Jean-Jacques Annaud, Michael Apted, Joe Johnston, and Edward Zwick.

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Pacific Rim very big teeth

It’s December, and that means holiday movie releases, which means we’re getting bombarded with movie trailers.  That includes a film focusing on the heir-apparent to the classic Japanese mega-monster, Godzilla.  At Comic-Con this year, Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures started some buzz for a new monster movie by Guillermo del Toro, simply titled Pacific Rim, with giveaways of an eye-catching exclusive teaser poster (the newly released poster is to the right):

Pacific Rim rare Comic-Con poster   Pacific Rim new poster

A fun mini-teaser was released last week, and it may peak your interest further:

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AOS cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

The magical, multimedia, computer-generated art of Archeologists of Shadows is at once both like something you’ve never seen before yet strangely familiar with bits and pieces of so many different influences.  The characters seem to have evolved from the green planet in Avatar and the villains from the Iowa State Patrol borg police of Star Trek 2009.  The compositions have influences in the creepy worlds of both artist Dave McKean and at the same time the otherworldly spaces of filmmaker Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth.  The fantasy evokes painted high fantasy pulp cover art and the mystery and old religions and myths of The Dark Crystal.  The colors and lights throughout the book are reminiscent of the work of artist Lee Bermejo.  The industrial architecture conjures the oppressive cityscapes of Fritz Lang, and the surreal buildings of  Antoni Gaudi.

As to the story, we’re introduced to a far off place, maybe Earth’s own future, the world of Terminator if the Connors have failed to save humanity, where humans have degraded to the point where they have only few organic parts.  The protagonists, Alix and Baltimo, are indeed borgs, with elaborate, realistically visualized cybernetics with a definite steampunk vibe.  They are on the brink of a crossroads like the dull citizens of George Lucas’s THX 1138–readying for the final steps of full mechanization.  Like the cast of Waiting for Godot, they wait for something to happen, maybe godlike intervention, until a stranger offers assistance.  Like Neo in The Matrix, do you act or not act, and which action bears the most risk, the doing or not doing?

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By Art Schmidt

For my top five list of stories I’d like to see turned into motion pictures, I have tried to be somewhat realistic.  Some of my favorite stories, whether novels or games or comic books, I have left off as just being beyond realization.  The wish of their being turned into a movie is, in itself, a fantasy, due to various factors.

For instance, since I was a teenager, I’ve been dying for someone to make a movie from Grand Poobah Dungeon Master Gary Gygax’s original storyline thread from the first D&D modules: “The Village of Hommlet” modules (T1-T4), the Slaver series (modules A1-A4), the “Against the Giants” series (modules G1-G3), and the “Drow of the Underdark” series (modules D1-D3 & module Q1 “Queen of the Demonweb Pits”).  Of course, this would be for the die-hard gaming geeks almost exclusively, and at twelve modules (adventures) it would be difficult to pack into a motion picture trilogy or quintology (!), even if anyone would be so crazy as to provide the funding for it.

I’m stoked for a movie adaptation of Ernest Cline’s recent novel, Ready Player One, but I’m not including it because it’s already in pre-production at Warner Bros.  No need to wish for that which is likely to already happen.  Then there’s the Wheel of Time series, which isn’t quite over.  The final book, currently titled A Memory of Light, is scheduled to be published in January of 2013.  And as the fifteen-volume series will clock in at an estimated 11,000 pages, it could never conceivably be condensed down to make any real sense in a few motion pictures.

Trivia:  A series of three books is called a trilogy.  A series of five books is called a quintology.  A series of seven books is called a heptalogy.  What is a series of fourteen books called?

Answer:  Too damned long!

Note:  No offense to Robert Jordan, may he rest in peace, the series is great, but it could have probably ended after eight or ten novels.  I really enjoyed the first ten Wheel of Time books!  And all of your Conan novels were great, too!

So, too, would I love to hear of a big screen adaptation of some of R.A. Salvatore’s  Drizzt Do’urden novels, especially the Icewind Dale Trilogy, but alas, it is not to be.  I could name some Star Wars and Conan novels that I’d like to see adapted, but those subjects have already been masterfully done on the big screen, so there is no use wasting our time.

Same goes for the less well-known but equally awesome Deathgate Cycle heptalogy from the great fantasy team of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.  Too many books in the series (few of which really stand entirely on their own), and likely too hardcore (i.e. small) of a fan base.  Anyhow, the powers that be (being in power, as they are), would most likely take a run at Dragonlance (ho-hum) before considering Deathgate.  Too bad.

In the “slightly unrealistic” column, however, I have included the Elric of Melnibone saga in my list, despite the main character being an anti-hero and thus a difficult win for a motion picture, even with the hard-core fantasy crowd.  Strangely enough, this may be the one wish that I am granted (read more in my Elric entry, below).

A lot of fantasy, I know.  I’m a fantasy kind of guy.  There are a lot of good horror, sci-fi, and other fiction out there crying to be made into films, but really, we get a lot of good stuff from those genres already.  But there is a dearth of good fantasy films out there, and they come along so rarely; The Fellowship of the Ring came out over ten years ago, after all.

Man, I’m getting old.  Somebody please make a couple of these before I croak.

Other honorable mentions.  I’d love to see something done with Gaiman’s Sandman series, but probably too difficult and definitely niche.  Same goes for Marvel 1601, one of my favorite graphic novels (also Gaiman).  But niche.  The books of Michael Crichton have been done (and done, and done) as they are so interesting and have such strong plotlines, but my favorite novel of his is one of his non-fiction works, Travels.  He chronicles some of his real-life travels had some great insights into his own life from them.  But again, probably too tight of an audience for something like that.

Neuromancer would totally rock, but the conventional wisdom is that cyberpunk is way over.  I’m no good at conventional wisdom, though.  Maybe it’s so over that it’s ready to be hip again?  Disco and bell bottoms keep coming back, after all.  On second thought, maybe not.

Anyway, on with the real list.

#5 – The Gaean Trilogy (Titan, Wizard and Demon) from John Varley

A mix of fantasy and sci-fi, this is the first thing I thought of when I saw Avatar.  And I wasn’t alone.  Space farers explore a foreign planet where magic seems to happen in nature, strange creatures abound, and some of them are intelligent/sentient.  Then humans come along and really muck it all up.  That’s the Gaean Trilogy’s premise (not the plot) in a nutshell.

Of course, there is much more to it than that.  There are far more significant differences between these novels and the movie Avatar than there are broad similarities.  The combination of sci-fi and fantasy is what would make this appealing, and the titanides and eventual revelation of the Gaea intelligence (and what follows) would make for a great movie.

#4 – Fallout: New Vegas (video game)

My favorite game in recent years (besides Star Wars: The Old Republic, which I’m itching to play even now while writing this), FNV was a great game because of the amazing, engrossing storyline.

In a nutshell:

In the late twenty-first century, America and China fight a prolonged war over resources that ends with a nuclear exchange.  The nuclear warheads and subsequent fallout kills most everyone except a chosen few who retreat to underground ‘vaults’ to ride out the Earth’s recovery from global fallout (hence the title of the series).  Life as we know it ends.

Some two hundred years later, people begin to emerge from the vaults, and find some still living humans, along with irradiated creatures, mutants, and all sorts of crazy stuff living in the burnt-out shells of our former civilization.  Las Vegas was spared from direct nuclear attack by the defenses of wealthy industrialist and casino owner, as was the nearby Hoover Dam.  People died, but the core of the Strip survived (what irony).

A lone traveler enters the area, gets shot in the head and buried, but survives and is nursed back to health, although with amnesia from the wound.  He sets about trying to learn about himself and his assailants, and in the process discovers that Las Vegas (dubbed “New Vegas” by the current residents) is being contested over by a growing civilization from California (the New California Republic, or NCR), an army of brutal slave-owning tribals calling themselves Caesar’s Legion, and the wealthy citizen who kept Vegas from annihilation (or is it him?) who runs New Vegas with an army of killer robots and calls himself Mr. House.

The story is compelling, and locations are fantastic, the inhabitants are diverse and interesting, and there are stories aplenty for the traveler to encounter and deal with on his way to the game’s climactic battle between these competing forces over who will control Hoover Dam, the one source of electricity and life-giving water amidst a world of death and dust.

A great movie that would make.  We’ve seen shades of this with The Book of Eli (a great movie, but more of a morality tale than a straight-forward action/adventure flick) and The Road (a great example of how really good books can be terrible movies), but nothing like the tale spun in New Vegas.

#3 – The Elric of Melnibone novels by Michael Moorcock

An island of anemic sorcerer kings who rule the world.  A savage world of monsters and heroes who strive daily to survive.  Magic that allows people to cross into other dimensions and sail through space to other planets.  Stormbringer.  What an absolutely epic fantasy movie that would make!

Of course, the main problem is that Elric is an anti-hero.  In fact, Elric is the very embodiment of the modern-day anti-hero.  He’s not a nice guy.  He’s not even rough-around-the-edges-but-basically-moral-in-an-immoral-world (like Conan) kind of guy.  He’s a self-important, selfish, power-hungry elitist.  At times, he’s a murder, though he does begin to show some humanity and regret after a while.  But he has a goal, and purpose, and oh, the adventures he has, the places he goes, and the things he sees!  All fantastic, and all while wielding what can easily be called the most powerful magical sword in all of fantasy (save perhaps for Shieldbreaker from Fred Saberhagen’s Swords novels, but I digress…)

I would absolutely love to sit in a theatre and watch the albino sorcerer-king travel the planes swinging the Black Sword of legend.  Ever since I saw Conan the Barbarian, I have longed for someone to make movies out of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Elric saga.  One down, one to go.

Apparently, I am a little late to the party on this one.  Director/Producer brothers Chris Weitz (About a Boy, The Golden Compass) and Paul Weitz (American Pie, Little Fokkers) were reportedly in “pre-production” on a movie trilogy based on Moorcock’s dark, brooding novels about my second-favorite anti-hero (see #1, below, for my fave), but that project has been side-tracked and is lately talked about by the brothers in wistful terms of ‘someday’.

Here’s hoping that “someday” actually comes.

Side Note: I’m not 100% certain, but I believe “Pre-Production” is a fancy Hollywood term for people emailing and texting back and forth about great ideas for a movie, then meeting in coffee shops and chatting about how great it would be to make said movie, before moving on to work on real movies that are actually being made.

#2 – Justice League / The Dark Knight Returns

DC Comics is sitting on a goldmine, but they have had some trouble translating the shiny stuff in their mine into coin of the realm.  The Batman movies of late being the obvious exception, DC Comics has not enjoyed the great success of Marvel in translating their characters to the big screen.  Superman was ground-breaking back in the seventies, and the first couple of Batman movies of the late eighties / early nineties paved the way for what was to come.  And then there is Batman Begins, The Dark Knight (of course), and this summer’s Dark Knight Rises.

But taking the long view, that’s maybe six or seven hit movies over a thirty year span.  Not horrible, but not that great.  But compare that with Marvel’s run in just the last twelve years, and you can pick twice that number of successful movies based on their characters.  The X-Men movies (at least two of them), the Spiderman trilogy (again, at least two), The Fantastic Four, X-Men: First Class, and the movies leading up to and including this summer’s The Avengers (Ang Lee’s Hulk and Iron Man 2 notwithstanding).

I’m not bashing DC here, don’t get me wrong.  Their characters are iconic, to say the least.  And maybe they don’t value movies as much as Marvel does, which is fine.  There is certainly more money to be made in movies, but money isn’t everything; no movie is better than a bad movie, when the protection of a brand is essential to the company’s success.

But DC has such a wealth of great story that it’s hard to fathom that there hasn’t been more translation from the inked page to the lighted screen.  Just imagine this movie trilogy, my friends…

The Justice League – A movie centering on the core of the League, Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Arrow and the Flash (possibly also Hawkman and/or the Martian Manhunter, depending on the ability to introduce the movie-going public at large to these characters), coming together to form the group to thwart Prometheus along the lines of Justice League: A Cry for Justice, except using the central characters rather than a competing alliance / ideology, with internal group conflict as to how to deal with the situation as would be natural.  Prometheus is murdering foreign superheroes, then planning to destroy cities of the League’s superheroes (maybe limit it to three key cities, rather than the sprawling destruction in the mag).  After being defeated he negotiates his escape, proving he’s not bluffing by detonating one bomb as in the book.  In this adaptation, Superman is the negotiator and Batman (along with Green Arrow) wanting to make him pay no matter what.  End with the Green Arrow scene (no spoiler here), with the barest hint that Batman helped him (but didn’t necessarily know what he was going to do).

The Justice League: Legion of Doom – The League battles the formation of the Legion of Doom.  The Legion is forming along the lines of the backstory from the Justice series in 2005-2006, with Brainiac (and Lex Luthor) fooling even his fellow baddies and planning to get the League to wipe out his ‘competitors’ of evil.  But unlike in Justice, their motivations are to take over the American government (as depicted in Miller’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again).  The League wins the apparent victory against the facade, but Brainiac and Lex succeed behind the scenes with their real master plan.  At the very end, the League is disgraced and talks of disbanding.  Superman is called away on an emergency he won’t discuss… (Lex has Kandor and is going to blackmail him, but don’t reveal that until the last movie in the trilogy).

The Justice League Returns – The movie everyone wants, Superman vs. Batman, pull out all of the stops.  This movie would basically blend The Dark Knight Returns with a little bit of The Dark Knight Strikes Again, blending the emancipation of Batman’s fellow Leaguers a-la DKSA into the main storyline of DKR (yes, it might be sacrilegious, but this is Hollywood we’re talking about)The Justice League disbanded after their failure in The Legion of Doom, and Brainiac and Lex have taken over America and put a computer President in place.  With Kandor held hostage, they have forced Superman to help capture or banish the other League members (similar to the backstory of DKSA and DKR both: “Diana returned to her people; Hal left for the stars…”  Leave Shazam out, he makes things too complicated).  This bit could be the prologue to the movie itself (before credits).  Batman is the bitter retiree in DKR and follows that storyline back from retirement to defeat the Mutants gang and/or the return of Two-Face, then sets about freeing his fellow Leaguers (DKSA), which leads to the confrontation with Superman as the puppet of the Braniac/Lex regime (weak not from the DKR nuclear missile but from the faux ‘catastrophes’ that Brainiac/Lex cook up for him in DKSA; the asteroid, the volcano in Hawaii, etc.) along with Batman’s fellow Leaguers (similar to Green Arrow in DKR, but with Hal Jordan and Barry Allen also assisting as in DKSA).  No Kara, though, and no Dick Grayson craziness, and take out all of the future media “super babes” hype and whatnots.

Ok, I’m done geeking out.  And I realize that the fanboys would cry FOUL (and worse) and this kind of hacked together plot from what may be their favorite series(es).  Me?  I’m not a purist, I just like good story.  Perhaps that’s why I seem to be one of the small minority who absolutely loved both the Watchmen comics and the spectacular movie equally.

Hollywood can ‘just’ make DKR and I’d be ecstatic.

I know there was (is?) a JL movie in the works, announced as being in “pre-production” (oh, boy) last year by Warner Bros., but couldn’t find anything recent on the subject.  Anyone have any fairly recent scoop on where that one is at?  Still in pre-production?  Man, those guys drink a lot of coffee.

#1 – The Chronicles of Amber novels from Roger Zelazny

This would make a great movie trilogy, no question.  The great thing about this story and why it would translate to the big screen is the beginning: the hero is a seemingly normal human being on planet Earth in the current day.  He awakes in a mental institution, not knowing how he got there, but it’s apparent he’s being kept sedated and held against his will.  He escapes but has amnesia (I know, it’s a tired plot device, but here it absolutely works).  He finds out he has a sister, goes to her home to investigate, and finds some things that are… weird.  He confronts her, and then meets more family.  And things get a bit weirder.

As his journey progresses, the audience learns things as the protagonist does; bit at a time, little by little, slowly building up this incredible picture of the hero as a long-lost prince of a magical kingdom in another dimension.  Sound like a book for young adults?  Hang on to your britches, cause it’s anything but.  Don’t let the terms “long-lost prince” and “magical kingdom” fool you.  This is hardcore fantasy at its absolute finest.

Once the hero, Corwin, loses his amnesia, he finds that he is a talented swordsman, a gifted military leader, and a cunning strategist.  He’s also an able sorcerer and in line for his absent father’s throne.  However, his family is currently vying against each other in cabals and alliances for the crown, and there are as many of them as there are books in the Wheel of Time series.

It has the fantasy swordplay of Conan (the original), the magical flair of The Matrix (if you haven’t read the books, it’s hard to explain that reference, but believe me, it’s apropos), the political in-fighting of A Game of Thrones, the gritty war drama of Braveheart and Platoon (again, the reference works, trust me) and the narrative genius of the multiple Hugo and Nebula award-winning author, Zelazny.

Yeah, it’s that good.  At least to me.  That’s why it makes the top of my list of stories I’d love to see made into movies.

Come back tomorrow, and Jason McClain will give us his take on adaptations and being true to the source material.

Review by C.J. Bunce

My best reaction to movies comes from those films that are not over-hyped, and that have trailers that do not show too much of a film’s content.  Examples are Inception and Avatar, two movies that were so hyped that by the time I saw them I was disappointed.  Not so for Source CodeSource Code is so innovative and interesting that you may keep talking about it, keep thinking about the different elements, the different choices made and possibilities the story reveals.  If they only made sequels to movies like this.

For one, my favorite sci-fi movie subject involves alternate realities, whether they are parallel timelines, time loops, time travel, or alternate histories.  On a basic level you will encounter time loops, a discussion topic from earlier this week, and you may encounter other alternate reality topics in Source Code.  Despite its title, it is not a computer techno-romp like The Net.  That’s a good thing.

Source Code stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a man on a train who appears out of nowhere and believes he is an American soldier whose last memory was fighting a battle in Afghanistan.  He is pulled out and replaced into a confined space, and from the trailer we know this place is a train that has a destiny with some type of horrible explosion.  Like Unstoppable, reviewed earlier here, only a handful of characters and tight locations are necessary to tell this tale.  The grandiosity of the typical blockbuster is not necessary here to deliver fast-paced action and harrowing circumstances for Gyllenhaal and co-star Michelle Monaghan, and uniquely difficult decisions for a project leader played by Vera Farmiga.  The is a small film, but high concept.

Gyllenhall fails to disappoint.  Joining Tom Cruise and Bruce Willis, his films always deliver.  His acting project choices, like this film, will hopefully continue to propel his career forward.  Like his character in Zodiac, the suspense mystery about the search for the real-life Zodiac serial killer, his character in this film struggles with confidence, angst, and a desire to break out of his confinement, his lot.  His performance here is as equally exciting as his acclaimed role as a troubled youth in Donnie Darko.

Source Code contains traditional sci-fi elements, to the point you would swear this was based on a Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke or Ray Bradbury story.  It has the feel of a classic sci-fi story.  Like with Bruce Willis’s Twelve Monkeys, Gyllenhaal’s Colter Stevens is a traveller, not by choice, not in the way we all dream about what you could do if time travel were possible.  Like characters in Connie Willis books (To Say Nothing of the Dog, Lincoln’s Dreams, Doomsday Book, All Clear) Stevens has a mission to complete, but not all is as it appears.  Rounding out the key characters of the story is Jeffrey Wright (Casino Royale), a lead actor type who is always equally solid in a supporting role as “the man behind the curtain.”  Look for the voice of Scott Bakula as Stevens’ father, not entirely coincidental considering this Quantum Leap-inspired quest.  And see how this could be considered another borg story, not unlike The Six Million Dollar Man.

Source Code could be compared with the Matrix, but Source Code is much better, much smarter, and more compelling.  As with movies like War of the Worlds, you are forced to ask yourself “what would I do if I suddenly awoke in Stevens’ shoes?”  Directed by Duncan Jones, this film does not follow any typical pattern and the story begins in the middle of the action, like a lot of TV shows, such as Heroes, have been filmed in recent years.  The pace works really well here.  You may be able to stay ahead of the action and decisions a few times throughout the movie, but I’d wager no one could predict the branches the story ultimately follows.  What contributes to the gravity of the characters’ situations is the believability of the circumstances in our current era of varying colored alerts.

While you’re buckling down for Irene to arrive this weekend, you could do a lot worse than renting Source Code on DVD or Blu-Ray.  Source Code’s creative story, action, and good acting earn 4.5 of 5 stars.  This may have fared even better in theaters, because so many details contribute to the story understanding that even on a decent size small screen you may miss some of these bits and pieces.

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